Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | October 27, 2007

Why the persistence in making John give and explanation of himself? (Lesson 4: Question 3 Answer)

3.  Why are the Jews so persistent in making John give them an explanation of himself?

In this question we will expand upon the motivations of the Jews persistent inquisition of John the Baptist in the desert.  During this consideration we will move into the next four verses of our text, which are as follows:

22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

As briefly eluded too in our opening comments to this section, a delegation of inquisitors were dispatched from the religious establishment with the mandate of finding out who John the Baptist claimed to be.  Their deployment suggests that John’s following was probably growing in number, which from their perspective may have been problematic in inciting instability within the region.  Although we are not told if the inquisitors believed the prophetic writings and were anticipating Messiah or if they were merely following orders from the religious establishment seeking to maintain power, as caretakers to the people of God they were responsible to validate the credentials of those who claimed to speak for God.    

Before moving further in answering this question we need to deal with an interesting insight here in our text.  In verse 24, there is a parenthetical statement that lets the reader know that these next waves of questions are made by the Pharisees.  However, in the first series of questions we are told that Jews sent from the priests and Levites were inquiring.  It is possible that the Jews who sent the priests and Levites were Pharisees as well.  However, it is more likely that the priests and Levites belonged to the Sadducee party who shared power with, yet opposed the party of the Pharisees.  Thus, we must consider whether these questions are asked during the same event or at a different time.  The text suggests that these questions are asked during the same event, since verse 25 (asked by the Pharisees) is building on verse 21 (asked by the priests and Levites).  Thus, we must conclude that there were two separate delegations that were in the desert inquiring of John the Baptist in the scene our text is describing.   

As we return to our task of answering the question in this lesson, we will be introduced to a topic that will be repeated with regularity as we continue through this Gospel.  One explanation that we think is the correct answer is that the inquisitors were growing impatient with the dialogue and were seeking the sign for John to validate his credentials as one who was speaking for God.  In this Gospel the apostle John will continually reinforce the importance of this protocol in recounting the miracles that our Lord performed validating His own credentials. Although there will be several opportunities to demonstrate this point as we continue in the study of the Gospel, we thought it would be appropriate to emphasize here that this was nothing new to the people of God.  This is the way that God’s messengers had assured His people that the word’s that were being spoken, were from Him.  Thus, we will here conduct a brief survey of some of the examples of this throughout redemptive history.

We will first look at the prophet par excellence from the Old Testament, foreshadowing Christ to come, Moses.  It is in him that this protocol of signs and wonder being used to authenticate God’s message is most evident.  We will begin with the call of Moses found in Exodus 4.  First God tells Moses to turn his staff into a serpent and second God tells Moses to place his hand in his garment turning it leprous.  These were two examples of miraculous signs that were designed to compel the people of Israel and Egypt to listen to Moses.  We find this explanation in Exodus 4:8-9:

8“If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. 9If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

Moses was worried that nobody would listen or believe the words that he was proclaiming, thus he would be an ineffective mediator/deliverer.  However, God assured Moses that the people would listen and after many evidences even Pharaoh would listen (Ex 3:19).  In drawing parallels between the similarities in the mediatorial roles of Moses and Jesus, Meredith Kline points to the integral role that signs played in their ministries.  “In each case these are characterized as ‘signs’ and they serve in part to attest the divine authorization of the mediator’s mission.”67 The next example we will look at is found in Numbers 17, which was in the aftermath of Korah’s rebellion.  Even after a great judgment consumed the rebellious Levites, challenges to Aaron’s role as High Priest were still being made.  However, this appointment did not come from mere man it was revealed to Moses through God Himself.  Therefore, God took it upon Himself to ensure that there was no question about this revelation through the performance of a miraculous sign.  As a result, God directed Moses to gather twelve rods to represent all the tribes of Israel, which were to be placed before the Lord.  God announced that the rod of His chosen representative would sprout and picking up in Numbers 17:8-11 we read about the outcome:

8On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. 9Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. 10And the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.”

Aaron’s rod was essentially a walking staff and God caused this dead peace of wood to “put forth buds…blossoms, and …almonds.”  This miraculous sign was a powerful validation of Moses’ credentials as God’s authorized messenger.  It was also stored in the ark of the testimony as a perpetual reminder to subsequent generations of what God decreed.  This is just one of many marvelous miraculous signs that were performed during the period of the Exodus.  These were no ordinary events, however were designed to make it abundantly clear that the Lord is God and ensure that Moses was God’s chosen messenger.  These numerous miraculous acts are summarized in Scripture and point the people back to God’s works among His people.  The people were reminded of these acts prior to entering the promise land as we read in Deuteronomy:

34Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. (Deut 4:34-35)

22And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. (Deut 6:22)

19the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Deut (7:19)

All of these examples establish the use of signs and wonders as authentications that God has worked and/or spoken.  These were not normal everyday occurrences, but mighty acts that demonstrated God’s power and authority to bind the consciences of men with His word.  For the great majority of the signs and wonders during this period God utilized His authorized represented, Moses to bring about these mighty acts. As we have seen throughout redemptive history, however this method of God authenticating His message and messengers through signs and wonders did not cease during the period of the Exodus.  It continued throughout the theocratic period, a notable example would be Elijah’s encounter with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:20-39.  It even continued during the exile in Babylon as we recall Daniel in the lion’s den or his three friends in the furnace.  However, after the return of the exilic community as we’ve indicated in prior lessons these signs and extra-canonical revelation ceased and the words of Psalm 74:9 were fulfilled:

9We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long.

As we read in this Psalm there is a presupposition that prophecy is accompanied by the validating signs and wonders to confirm there authenticity.  We have taken this time to lay a ground work for the rest of this study to help us realize that miracles, signs and wonders were not everyday occurrences in biblical times.  They were not random or induced by the exertion of pious prayer or acts of faith.  These miracles, signs and wonders had a purpose of validating credentials and authenticating the messenger of God.  They assured the listening audience that this man speaking things about God was sent by Him and his words should be heeded.  And after a long period of cessation, the nation of Israel was on the brink of encountering these acts again.  The period of our Lord was the most significant period of miracles, signs and wonders since the time of the Exodus.  We will argue that this period actually surpassed that of the Exodus.  And as we continue our study we should keep the importance of this period in mind.  Unless special revelation was accompanied by these signs and wonders, we have no reason to suspect that God has spoken.  Thus, we have further reason to refrain from lending credibility to those who advocate a modern day gift of prophecy supporting our conclusions in previous lessons.  Since the common practice of this “gift” is not accompanied by authentic signs and wonders.  Although, we have taken some time on material that is not explicitly in our text, in the next several chapters we will be inundated with these things.  As we encounter this material in the study let us recall this lesson, which seeks to inform our readers that this pattern is not foreign to Scripture.

Hence we can ascribe the inquisitor’s persistence in seeking an answer from John the Baptist as an attempt to validate his credentials.  Nonetheless, we are not informed by the Scriptures of John the Baptist ever performing any signs or wonders.  This, however, does not suggest that he was not sent from God since there was ultimately a sign that authenticated John’s message.  We would argue that the authenticating sign was Christ Himself, beginning with His baptism and His entire earthly ministry.  In fact this we will find was John’s response to his inquisitors in the subsequent verses.

67 Meredith Kline (2007) The Structure of Biblical Authority (Eugene, OR:  Wipf & Stock 1989), 189



  1. […] the rest of the life of the Church.  As we have already labored in other studies to examine (lesson 4 question 3 answer, lesson 4 question 2 answer, and lesson 3 question 9 answer) the manifestation of extraordinary […]

  2. […] of this text we will consider the significance of this sign building on the foundation of prior sections of this work.  We also encounter the mother of our Lord in this text, which for all intents and purposes […]

  3. […] Here in these verses we are in the midst of a scene characterized by confrontation, as our Lord had just cleansed the temple (John 2:13-17) from being profaned by the “practical ingenuity” of the people.  It is highly unlikely that anyone within the audience was happy about this intense and passionate action by our Lord.  After the last money changer station was overturned and after the last remnants of the market products were driven out of the temple, the Jews spoke up demanding an explanation for our Lord’s action.  Their response is reminiscent of the inquisitors at the Jordan River when the Jews and Priest’s questioned John the Baptist about his credentials.   This is not the first time this group has asked questions like this nor will it be the last as we continue in the subsequent sections of the fourth Gospel (John 6:30-34).    Essentially, whenever the question is raised it is a demand to demonstrate that the one being questioned has the God-given authority to perform the actions in question.  Although, our Lord’s cleansing of the temple was a just and right action to preserve the sanctity of His Father’s house, the crowd rightly interprets the action as being done by one with authority to do so.  As discussed in previous sections, the proper way to validate these authoritative credentials was through the performance of  miracles, signs and wonders. […]

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